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Pentagon (TALON) Database Monitors War Protestors


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The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit to force the Department of Defense to turn over records it wrongly kept on peace groups and law-abiding Americans throughout the country.

 

"The U.S. military should not be in the business of maintaining secret databases about lawful First Amendment activities," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. "It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust for the military to play any role in monitoring critics of administration policies."

 

The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by the national ACLU and its affiliates in Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania and Washington. The lawsuit charges that the Defense Department is refusing to comply with national Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking records on the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, Greenpeace, Veterans for Peace and United for Peace and Justice, as well as 26 local groups and activists.

 

The ACLU filed the FOIA requests on February 1, 2006 after evidence surfaced that the Pentagon was secretly conducting surveillance of protest activities, antiwar organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies. According to news reports, the Pentagon gathered information on law-abiding Americans and shared the information with other government agencies through the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database. The TALON program was initiated by former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 2003 to track groups and individuals with possible links to terrorism. Following public outcry over the domestic spying program, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England issued a memorandum directing intelligence personnel to receive "refresher training on the policies for collection, retention, dissemination and use of information related to U.S. persons."

 

In today's lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the organizations and individuals monitored by the Pentagon have a right to know what information the military has collected about them. The ACLU seeks to uncover whether the TALON records have been or plan to be shared with another agency, or otherwise disseminated.

 

"Spying on citizens for merely executing their constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly is chilling and marks a troubling trend for the United States," said Joyce Miller, Assistant General Secretary for Justice and Human Rights of the American Friends Service Committee. "These actions violate the rule of law and strike a severe blow against our Constitution."

 

Some of the groups represented in today's lawsuit, like the Rhode Island Community Coalition for Peace and the Pittsburgh Organizing Group, learned that they were under surveillance after NBC made public portions of the TALON database it had obtained. A full list of groups in today's lawsuit is online at www.aclu.org/spyfiles. Also today, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed additional FOIA requests on behalf of more than 30 peace groups in the state. The groups fear they may have been monitored because they have publicly opposed the war in Iraq.

 

Similarly, the ACLU of Montana last week filed a FOIA request on behalf of eight state grassroots organizations that have questioned federal policies. The Montana FOIA was filed simultaneously with the Defense Department, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

 

Attorneys in today's lawsuit are Wizner, Ann Beeson and Scott Michelman with the national ACLU, and Mary Catherine Roper and Witold Walczak with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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NBC did a story about this in March. This issue seems to gaining interest, but the Pentagon already admitted the mistake and fixed the problem.

 

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The Department of Defense admitted in a letter obtained by NBC News on that it had wrongly added peaceful demonstrators to a database of possible domestic terrorist threats. The letter followed an NBC report focusing on the Defense Department’s Threat and Local Observation Notice, or TALON, report.

 

Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Roger W. Rogalski's letter came in reply to a memo from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who had demanded answers about the process of identifying domestic protesters as suspicious and removing their names when they are wrongly listed.

 

The recent review of the TALON Reporting System ... identified a small number of reports that did not meet the TALON reporting criteria. Those reports dealt with domestic anti-military protests or demonstrations potentially impacting DoD facilities or personnel,” Rogalski wrote on Wednesday. While the information was of value to military commanders, it should not have been retained in the Cornerstone database.

 

Threats directed against Defense Department

In 2003, the Defense Department directed a little-known agency, Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), to establish and maintain a domestic law enforcement database that includes information related to potential terrorist threats directed against the Department of Defense. Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also established TALON at that time.

 

The original NBC News report, from December, focused on a secret 400-page Defense Department document listing more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a 10-month period. One such incident was a small group of activists meeting in a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., to plan a protest against military recruiting at local high schools.

 

In his Wednesday letter, Rogalski said such anomalies in the TALON database had been removed.

 

"They did not pertain to potential foreign terrorist activity and thus should never have been entered into the Cornerstone database. These reports have since been removed from the Cornerstone database and refresher training on intelligence oversight and database management is being given,” Rogalski wrote.

 

Rogalski said only 43 names were improperly added to the database, and those were from protest-related reports such as the Quaker meeting in Florida.

 

'All reports concerning protest activities have been purged,' the letter said.

 

Track Back

 

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11751418/

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  • 4 weeks later...
Guest You see this

You see this as a violation of you first amendment rights, but I view this as being proactive. You never know if some known terrorists or other associated groups could be tied to these legal protests. Nobody is stopping you from doing the demonstrations. So by the first amendment would anyone have the right to maintain a datbabase like this or is this just something else to complain about.

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